If the facts don’t play out for the populist headline you crave, you can always use the force, Luke. A story was trending on the socials on Thursday night, claiming that Walt Disney‘s (DIS -3.77%) priciest lodging experience is a flop. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser opened a little more than three months ago, charging at least $4,809 for a two-night stay for a party of two.
It’s a lot of money to pay for less than 48 hours of immersive make-believe, and the stiff price tag doesn’t make it accessible to the masses. Most people probably want the Star Wars-themed experience to fail, and any sign of the concept’s weakness is clickbait gold. However, before doing a victory lap, we may want to nip the schadenfreude in the bud. Galactic Starcruiser isn’t a failure, at least not yet.
Out of this world
Let’s start with the origin story of the chatter. Disney has been surveying guests who paid up to take the simulated voyages. They’re also inviting some of them to be part of a virtual focus group that will take place later this month. The original reports of the surveys and focus groups on popular blogs for Disney enthusiasts didn’t portray any of this as unusual.
It’s not unusual. Theme park companies are always hungry for feedback. I’ve received emails for online surveys after visits to Disney World and Comcast‘s (CMCSA -1.30%) Universal Orlando in recent months, and neither company is hurting for business. They’re both reporting record revenue and operating profits for their theme parks segment, despite turnstile clicks from international visitors clocking in well below pre-pandemic levels.
Consumers are paying up for their theme park getaways. Per capita guest spending at Disney World is up 40% from where it was in 2019, and it has a park reservations system in place to keep crowd levels in check. It also has suspended most of its annual pass sales for new accounts. Comcast’s resort isn’t requiring advance reservations, but it just increased its annual pass prices by 6% to 8% last week — after an 11% to 15% hike just four months ago. Desperate companies don’t increase prices and announce record financial results.
These garden-variety theme park surveys don’t typically lead to paid focus groups, but it’s important for Disney to know what its first three months of space travelers feel at a deeper level for a brand new premium-priced experience. Those who participate in the 90-minute session reportedly get $175 in Disney gift cards as compensation, roughly what they paid per room earlier this year for 90 minutes on the Galactic Starcruiser. This is an experience catering to affluent Star Wars fans, and time is money on both ends.
The early reports weren’t surprised by the surveys or the focus groups. They know theme parks are perpetually taking the pulse of their visitors. The original report made waves because the survey came from Disneyland — not Disney World. The speculation was that the experience is going so well that Disney was going to expand the concept to the original resort on the West Coast. It was ultimately clarified that that is not the case, and the research is solely for the existing Galactic Starcruiser in Florida.
The space race
How did a marginally positive story take a decisively negative turn by the time non-Disney sources hopped on the nonevent? Human nature. Publications know that most of their readers will never justify spending that much for a live-action role-playing game. A lot of people want experiences for the well-to-do to fail. There’s also a conservative chunk of the population that resents Disney World for taking a “woke” political stance in Florida.
It doesn’t matter that reality paints a different picture. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is an exclusive experience. The interactive two-night journey has only 100 available rooms that it has to fill every other night. On a resort with more than 36,000 rooms, we’re talking about less than 0.3% of the on-site overnight guest capacity. It can’t serve everybody.
The experience-bashing Fatherly article claims that “no one” wants to book a stay, but look it up. As of Friday morning, the next two months are fully booked. The next availability is for Aug. 16, and pricing hasn’t budged since the maiden voyage in March.
It’s too early to call Galactic Starcruiser a long-term success. Disney will need to differentiate the experience over time to encourage return visits from its early adopters. It may have to mix things up to keep them fresh — just as the cruise line stocks do — with different Star Wars themes and different itinerary lengths. However, right now the bar-raising interactive experience isn’t a flop. It’s just an easy target for critics with aim as bad as that of Stormtroopers.